• Tamara Zidansek, 85th in the world, is the biggest surprise of the improbable last four of the women's tournament, whose semi-finals take place this Thursday. 

  • The Slovenian is the first since her country's independence to reach this level in a Grand Slam tournament.

  • After the emergence of great talents in cycling or basketball, tennis could become the next playground of this small country wedged between the Adriatic and the Balkans.

At Roland-Garros,

Slovenia will therefore spare us nothing. Skiing and winter sports in general, ok, that was normal. Basketball is still going strong, even if no one had foreseen the emergence of a monster like Luka Doncic. But resolving to see the grocer Primoz Roglic and comet Tadej Pogacar dominate cycling was painful enough that, in addition, we are not even quiet at Roland Garros.

Note that we have nothing against this small country wedged between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.

It's just that until now, it was not even known that it housed tennis players.

Some will oppose the name of Katarina Srebotnik to this observation, but if we have to start listening to fans of ladies' doubles and mixed doubles - we salute them - we are not out.

Anyway, the debate is now futile with the presence of Tamara Zidansek in the semi-finals of the Parisian Grand Slam, this Thursday against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The revelation in the first round

In the last totally improbable square of the women's table, the 85th player in the world is still the one who is the biggest surprise. So far, Zidansek had won just three major tournament games in his entire career (one at Wimbledon, two in Australia). But her first-round victory over world number 7 Bianca Andreescu, 9-7 in the third set, took her to new heights.

“I gained a lot of confidence with this victory.

I felt good before the start of the tournament, I played well, especially on clay, I had had good matches too.

There was a click that occurred during this first round, she analyzed after her victory in the quarterfinals.

Every day it's a new chapter in my life somewhere.

And I think I'll just keep taking it day to day, hoping for the best.

"

Our Roland-Garros file

The approach does not seem to work too badly. Here she is in any case labeled the first Slovenian player in history to reach this level in Grand Slam, even if it is appropriate here to quote the name of Mima Jausovec. Laureate of Roland-Garros in 1977 with Yugoslav nationality, the native of Maribor is indeed THE benchmark of Slovenian tennis. He would have been asked his opinion on Zidansek, moreover, but the email sent to an address found in the depths of the Internet probably never reached its recipient.

Anyway, the 23-year-old's career is a real event in the country.

“I receive a lot of congratulatory messages.

It means a lot to me to be able to convey a message to the Slovenes by saying: "We can do it!", She appreciates.

Even though we're a small country, we don't have that many players, but they are good.

I am delighted to be able to convey this message, it means a lot to all of us.

"

Less density ... therefore more work

Slovenia is a surprising country. Not much bigger than Fiji or Swaziland, populated by barely two million inhabitants (the metropolis of Aix-Marseille-Provence, roughly), it is in the process of emerging champions with a vengeance. Matej Tusak, a local sports psychologist who worked with Primoz Roglic in particular, explained to AFP last September: “If you are a basketball coach in the United States, even if you do nothing, there is has so many players, that from time to time you will have some with talent and athletic ability that will make a career out of your little contribution. The Slovenes have the ambition to be great… It forces us to take a different path if we want to be successful. "

Understood, it works hard without looking in the mirror.

Marjan Cuk, the coach of Zidansek, also has his own idea on the issue.

According to him, the Slovenes have made the most of their roots.

“We were part of the Austro-Germanic Empire and Yugoslavia.

On the one hand, we are used to rigor and discipline.

Yugoslavs are more relaxed and peaceful.

It's a bit of a mix of both, we're serious and at the same time we can dance, ”he explains from Roland's press room.

Okay, but still. How did Zidansek manage to build herself in a country that has no, or very little, tennis culture? The native of Postojna (southwest of the country), daughter of a judge and a teacher, did not have a model on which to base her career. That didn't stop her from putting in place “from the start a long-term strategy,” as she recounted this week. At 15, she built a real professional team around her, with Cuk and Zoran Krajnc, still there today. Everything was not easy, especially when it was necessary to find invitations for international tournaments, once the country (quickly) scoured. His coach develops:

“You really had to pull out all the stops, be in the top 100 players in the WTA. We started [on the ITF secondary circuit] with 10,000, then 15,000, 25,000 [endowment dollars], and so on. She gradually climbed and here we are in the Top 100. At first, she had a hard time believing it, because we are not used to climbing so high in Slovenia. Then, week by week, it got better and we are here today. "

There, it is therefore in the semi-final Porte d'Auteuil, and soon among the 50 best players in the world.

Not bad for someone who was quite into snowboarding in her youth but who took up tennis because she was "fed up with being cold".

Today, she could give ideas to young compatriots.

We are not yet at the colonization of the world top 20, but with these Slovenians, we must not swear anything.

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